Despite falling two tries behind and then playing 34 minutes one-man down, Castres dominated Exeter for long stretches to win their European Champions Cup match, 29-25, on Saturday.
Exeter grabbed an early 14 point lead as Santiago Cordero broke through two tackles to scored after eight minutes then six minutes later Matt Kvesic erupted from the middle of a maul to touch down.
Castres fought back with a try in the corner by centre Florian Vialelle, a drop goal and two penalties by Julien Dumora and another penalty by Dumora’s replacement Yohan Le Bourhis that put them five points ahead.
They seemed to have undone all their good work in a disastrous final three minutes of the half.
First, Maama Vaipulu smashed his shoulder into Luke Cowan-Dickie’s chin, even though the Exeter hooker did not even have the ball. The Tongan No. 8 saw red.
Then Gareth Steenson charged down a kick by Le Bourhis and touched down to level the score.
Castres regained the lead early in the second half when Steve Mafi, who had blown a chance after bursting through in the first half, broke a tackle, threw a sidestep and accelerated clear. This time he did not look back as he surged through to score.
The French champions held Exeter at arms length for the rest of the half. The English played the last nine minutes with 14 after Henry Slade tackled Vilallele, who had already kicked the ball.
The victory lifted Castres to second in Pool 2 behind Munster, who beat Gloucester, 36-22.
The game in Limerick was also marked by a first-half red card and late yellows.
Mike Haley gave the home team a 21st-minute lead with a try in the corner.
After 29 minutes, Gloucester fly half Danny Cipriani led with his shoulder as he tackled the onrushing Rory Scannell and saw red.
Rhys Marshall added a second try before half time and Sam Arnold, Andrew Conway and Joey Carberry, who also kicked 11 points, touched down for Munster in the second half.
Gerbrandt Grobler, Jason Woodward and Ben Morgan replied in the last 18 minutes for Gloucester.
Munster finished with 13 men after Arnold and Stephen Archer collected yellow cards in the last three minutes.
© Agence France-Presse (Additional Edits By Oisin McQueirns)